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(Zip Records 057 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/19/2007)
Two thousand seven has been a great year for intelligent, upbeat melodic pop in the tradition of the Beatles. There have been first-rate CD releases by Fountains of Wayne, The Red Button, Tim Finn, Daphne Loves Derby, Cantinero, Jason Reeves, Tim Blane and several others. The year closes out with more musical riches, the latest recording by Smash Palace called Everybody Comes and Goes.
New Jersey-based Smash Palace has been going on various forms now for a quarter century. Brothers Stephen and Brian Butler formed a band called Quincy in the late 1970 , and the band released an LP for Columbia Records in 1980. They were managed by the late Hilly Krystal, owner of the famous club CBGB's. After the release of their album, the band were promptly sued by Quincy Jones for supposedly using his name, as if there were no other Quincies in the world. So Quincy ended up disbanding, but the Butler Brothers started over again, calling their band Smash Palace, and also landed a deal with Epic Records, which released the band's first LP is 1985.
Given the vagaries of the music business, Smash Palace went on an extended hiatus and the Butler Brothers became staff songwriters for a music publishing company. But in 1999, they decided to re-form the band. By then, Brian Butler chose to retire from touring, but he continued to collaborate with Stephen Butler in songwriting and in the studio. They released three independent CDs.
In what could be the most classic story of rock band discovery, Smash Palace had booked a tour of England in 2005 and happened to get a gig in the famous Cavern Club, in Liverpool, where, of course, the Beatles established themselves. A representative of an American record label, Zip Records, was also there and decided to sign the band, based on their performances, especially after effusive praise by a BBC disc jockey for their live show. So Smash Palace also found themselves as a band "discovered" in the Cavern Club.
So last year, Zip Records released a sampler of music from Smash Palace's independent releases called Best of... 99-06. The band has been attracting more attention since then, and also put in an appearance on our Homegrown Music series here at WVIA.
Now, they are out with their sixth recording, and the first all-new one under their deal with Zip Records, and I think it's their best yet. Everybody Comes and Goes also features some guest appearances by members of their original band Quincy, some musicians that the Butler Brothers has been playing with since school. Smash Palace's basic personnel remains from the earlier recordings including guitarist and vocalist DyAnne DiSalvo and bassist Phil Rizzo. The drummer chair varies, with a couple of tracks featuring Anthony Bezich, who played on their Homegrown Music appearance, and their current regular touring drummer Greg DiDonato. Stephen Butler does most of the lead vocals and lead guitar, and his non-touring brother Brian Butler, who co-wrote almost all the songs with Stephen, is heard on some vocals and percussion. As on their previous CDs, the band did the recording in their own, analog studio they call The "Smash Palace." In their CD notes, they boast that it is a computer-free recording, meaning that all the recording and mixing were done the old-fashioned way with tape. That process definitely helps to keep a great, live-sounding vibe to the sessions.
In addition to being a reunion with some of the members of the Quincy band, the CD's title is also a tribute to Alex Takach who was an original member of Quincy who was killed on the streets of Philadelphia by an unknown assailant in a break between sets. The CD contains a snippet of a tune by that name that Takach wrote and recorded as a demo.
Like much of the music of this ilk, all the tracks on this CD are love songs in one form or another -- celebratory, lamenting a breakup, missing one's lover, etc. The band doesn't really break any new ground lyrically, but the music is so hummable and the words are straightforward and memorable, so it's hard not to go away with one or more of these songs stuck in your head.
The CD opens with one of those tunes, She, about the pursuit of love, that does tend to show the band's Beatles influence. Smash Palace gives us all the requisite ingredients, first-rate vocals, ringing guitars and old-fashioned analog keyboard parts, not to mention some great writing. <<>>
A little rockier, resembling some new wave rock of the late 1970s is Didn't Anyone Tell You? It's another strong track. <<>>
Also showing a bit of Fab Four influence, especially from the Revolver era is a When You're Down. <<>>
Somewhat more laid-back in sound is Is This a Dream, whose slightly melancholy sound belies the wistfulness expressed in the lyrics. <<>>
An album like this would not be complete without a song about lost love. Smash Palace obliges with Dressed in Black, to which they add a lot of class. <<>>
Another high point of the album is Don't Ask Me Why, whose lyrics of encouragement are are given a great musical setting that adds some interesting touches to the kind of archetypical pop rock tune. <<>>
Smash Palace draws on yet another classic pop song topic, missing one's significant other, after having to spend time apart. The song is called Caroline. One can hear echoes of roots-rock groups like The Band at times. <<>>
With the band not shy about showing their Beatles influence, they include a George Harrison song as the final full track on the CD. I Want to Tell You was recorded for radio appearance the band did. <<>>
Everybody Comes and Goes, the new sixth CD by the long-running band Smash Palace, is the group's best yet. It's full of great composing, appealing vocals, and generally straight-ahead lyrics that make this another outstanding melodic pop, British-invasion-influenced album in a year with a wealth of such recordings. Smash Palace takes the elements that made the Beatles' music so great -- appealing tunes but always with an interesting touch or two such a bridge that goes in a different direction than you might expect, or some clever arrangement ideas. And the band sounds as if they are having a great time doing it. The traditional, non-computer-based recording technique helps ensure an organic sound, with the what you hear being more of an actual performance.
And speaking of sounds, we'll give the CD an audio quality grade close to an "A." While not an audiophile recording, it's got all the right ingredients and sonic treatments that capture this music well, and it takes well to a good stereo system.
This kind of melodic pop is spanning about three different generations of artists -- the people who made the music in the first place, as well as some early-twenty-something musicians today who probably heard these sounds from their parents' record collection. Smash Palace is sort of in-between, forming in the 1980s and continuing on and off for more than 20 years. They have definitely hit their stride on their new CD.
(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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